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Angling-art - 8/24/01


"A Historic Look at the Sport of Angling" by Creador TwineDragon presented as a class at Pennsic 26 A.S. 32.


NOTE: See also the files: fishing-msg, Complet-Anglr-msg, fish-msg, fish-pies-msg, frogs-msg, salmon-msg, seafood-msg, netting-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set

of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


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Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be

reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first

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                              Thank you,

                                   Mark S. Harris

                                   AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                        stefan at florilegium.org                                         



A Historic Look at the Sport of Angling

by Creador TwineDragon

presented at Pennsic 26 A.S. 32


Thus have I proved, according to my purpose, that the sport and game of angling is the true means and cause that brings a man into a merry spirit, which (according to the said proverb of Solomon and the said teachings of medicine) makes a flowering of age and a long one. And therefore to all you that are virtuous, gentle and freeborn, I write and make this simple treatise which follows, by which you can have the whole art of angling to amuse you as you please. in order that your age may flourish the more and last the longer.


from the modernized text of

The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle (from the second Book of St. Albans: 1496)


The purpose of this handout is to give an introduction to the history of angling as a sport, along with a brief description of the tools used in the sport, including some general notes on the skills and technics used to create these tools.


There has been more written about the sport of fishing, than any other sport known to man.

The Well Tempered Angler by Arnold Gingrich 1965





Angling is the technique of catching fish using a rod and a line, thus called angling due to the angle formed by the rod and line. The sport of angling is when someone angles for enjoyment without the need of fish for food or commerce (though bringing home your days catch for dinner is a bonus for being a good angler). Often when fishing an angler would attempt to catch only one type of fish, many times limiting his equipment to increase the sport.


Ancient pictographs dating form about 2000 B.C. show us that the first people to angle were the Egyptians, and it was also the ancient Egyptians who first enjoyed angling as a sport, as seen from a drawing dat ing from 1400 B. C. which depicts an Egyptian !1ot>le angling in a elegant pond. The Greeks. who were avid writers on fishing, tell us about the sport of angling and give us some of the earliest accounts of the equipment used for angling. It appears that the Romans did not hold the sport of angling in high regard since there is mention that angling was an activity for women and not a fitting sport for men.


In the orient there are writings from the I Ching telling us of the Chinese people angling for sport as early as the eleventh century B.C. and in the first century A.D. the Emperor Wu was said to go angling using a white silk line, a gold hook and a gold fish as bait, without making any attempt at actually catching any fish, but to just enjoy the pastime. In the seventh and eighth centuries many Japanese nobles built pavilions on their estates, just so they could enjoy the sport of angling. In Europe, from the time of the Romans through the fifteenth century, there was not much written about angling, only a few brief references and several manuscript pictures give any indication of the art of angling. This changed at the end of the fifteenth century with the release of a few publications on the subject.  The most important and influential of these was The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle believed to have been written sometime before 1450 and was possibly a copy of an earlier work. It was first published in the second Book of St. Albans in 1496. The Treatise was added to the Book of St. Albans with the intention of the book being for the gentry, as to keep the knowledge from commoners so they would not ruin the sport. Though the Treatise was later published in pamphlet form for all to have.


Even though there were other publications on angling at the time of the Book of  St. Albans and several more after, The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle was the most indepth study on the tools, techniques and attributes used in the sport of angling. It set the standard of angling for the next 200 years and was the foundation for most writings on the sport there after and The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle not only was concerned with the equipment needed for the sport, but also with the attitude of the angler. Thus the Treatise is the primary source of information for this handout and wi11 be referenced throughout.






If you want to be crafty in angling, you must first learn to make your tackle.


modernized text of the first printed version of The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle (from the second Book of St. Albans: 1496)


Using properly prepared equipment is important to the success of the angler. There are three pieces of equipment necessary to the sport of angling, these are the rod, line and hooks.


The first piece of equipment to be discussed is the rod. The rod was made from various materials, depending on the region in question. From all indications the cane rod was used in southern Europe from the time of the Greeks, these rods varied in length and thickness depending on the type of fish being angled for. In the orient, the rods were made from bamboo, which measured from between twelve and fifteen feet in length. Since bamboo was unavailable and the cane or reed in the region was too brittle, in northern Europe the rods were made of flexible, light weight wood and measured between twelve and eighteen feet in length.


The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle describes a rod of three sections, fitted together to form the rod. The bottom section was a staff as thick as ones arm, measuring from six to nine feet and could be made from hazel, willow or aspen. If these woods are hard to obtain, ash is an acceptable saubstitute. This staff was to be cut between Michaelmas (September 29th) and Candlemas (February 2nd), this is so that the sap from the tree would not be in the staff and hamper the curing process. Once cut, the staff is steamed and straightened, then cured. After the staff is cured, it is shaped and tapered, then taking heated wire and metal rods it is bored out. The staff is then ferruled at both ends with iron or latten (fine brass) bands, so as to keep it from splitting.

The middle section, which is to be cut at the same time as the lower staff, is to be of hazel, but fir or maple may also be used. This section of about four feet must also be steamed, straightened, cured and then shaped. In shaping this section be sure that the bottom of it fits snugly in the hole bored in the bottom section, a hands breadth from its narrow end.


The top section, which also measures about four feet (the middle and top sections when spliced together should not be longer than length of the bottom staff) and is to be cut in the same season can be of blackthorn, crabtree, medlar or juniper will also need to be soaked and straightened. Once the middle and upper sections are ready, they are spliced and lashed together being sure that it will pass through the hole in the lower staff. Once this upper section is completed, wrap it with a six hair line (see fishing line section for description) from the tip to where it is lashed, leaving a loop at the tip to tie the fishing line to. When completed the upper section should fit inside the bottom section and with a running device can be drawn in and out. Ofhen the rod is fully extended it will measure between twelve and eighteen feet in length,  though this may seem overly long. it was light weight and easy to wield. This great length was also important for increased casting distance and for reducing the stress on the line when landing a large fish. It should be noted, that by the end of the sixteenth century, rods could be purchased in tackle shops which was a steadily growing industry as more and more people took up the sport of angling.


The fishing line is the next pieces of tackle needed by an angler and probably the most involved to create. There is mention of several different materials used as fishing line. One was made from the same plant which linen was made from. Also mentioned was silk (especially in the orient) and green silk, which is made from the gut of the silk worm (and is much more durable in water than regular silk). But, the primary source for fishing line from the time of the ancient Greeks and was still in use in the nineteenth century was the hair from the tail of the horse.


The color of the hair was important, it must be white, this is due to the fact that white tail hair has a far greater elasticity than other colors of hair and was less likely to snap under pressure. Plutarch in his writings from the second half of the first century, tells us to use the white hair from the tail of a stallion first, the gelding next, and the mare the least, this is because the mare urinates on her tai1 and the urine wiII weaken the fibers of the hair and thus weaken the line. Plutarch also writes of keeping the line white and with few knots, so when the fish looks up at the line it will blend with the sky and will not startle the fish. The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle tells us to dye our lines to match the water so as not to startle the fish. This difference of opinion still goes on to this day.


The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle gives the most in-depth information on creating fishing line. The first step is to inspect the horse tail hair for splits, frays and imperfections which may weaken the line. Then dividing the tail into six bundles, each of these bundles of hair are dyed a different

color: yellow, green, brown, tawny, russet and a dusky color. Each of these colors was for different types of water conditions being fished. The Treatise gives excellent dye recipes for each of these colors, but are too long to include in this handout.


Once the hair is dyed, it is plaited (plaiting is similar to braiding but without any additional twisting) into different weight lines using a various number of hairs depending upon the type of fish being angled for, one hair for the smallest and up to fifteen hairs for the largest. It has also been recommended that weaving in a thin wire when fishing for very large fish. The plaiting process was done on a line tying tool, which greatly assists in the making of any line greater than a one hair line. A few points should be made about weaving the line, the first is when plaiting the line, do not make it too tight or the line will snap easily. The second is to make sure your knots are secure and trimmed neatly. Finally, occasionally wetting the hair while plaiting will you to get a much more even line, since the hairs will become more supple.


As a final note, a fishing line made from three hairs, when tested, was equal to between three and five pound test line and a six hair line, tested at between four and seven pound test 1ine. When finished, horse hair line is surprisingly similar in look and feel to modern braided fishing line.


A Line Tying Tool


The third main piece of tackle is the hook. and which is probably the most difficult piece of equipment to make properly. Throughout history. hooks have been made from many different materials, wood, horn and bone, brass in Egypt and eventually iron and steel. On the European mainland hooks appeared to be

made from wire and even early on had eyelets. This varies greatly with the hooks described by The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle in England. These hooks were made from other metal items and had no eyelets. To attach these hooks to the line, a leader was lashed onto the hook with silk thread.


The process for making hooks described in The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle is difficult for two reasons. The first is that the hooks must be properly tempered, if not they may bend easily or they may be brittle and snap when a fish strikes. The other reason for the difficulty, is that the metal items

described are not readily available today and must be made. These reasons aside, the process seems fairly straight forward.


The Treatise describes making fish hooks from fine square needles for smaller fish and using larger needles for larger and larger fish, until the largest hooks are made from shoemaker awls for the largest fish such as pike.


The process describes first heating the needle (or whatever is being used for the hook), then letting it cool to reduce its temper. When the needle is cool enough to handle. use a sharp knife lift the barb, then file the point sharp. Reheating the needle, it is then bent into the proper shape and the top of the shank is hammered into a flange. This flange is then filed to remove any brays which may cut the line. Once all this is done, the hook is heated once again and quenched to reset its temper.


The need to make hooks changed during the sixteenth century with the rise of the new industry of needle making. which quickly turned to making hooks. Like the fishing rod, hooks were available for purchase at tackle shops.


These three pieces of tackle is all that is needed (besides bait) to enjoy the sport of angling, but there is more tackle which can be created to increase the skill of the angler. These are bobbers, weights and flies.


The bobber is of great assistance when bait fishing, and probably the easiest piece of tackle to make. The bobber described in The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle is made of cork. This imported wood comes from a tree in the south of Spain. It is best to first shape the cork with a sharp knife into an egg or acorn shape. Then finish shaping and smoothing the bobber on a grinding wheel. The final shape is one that is larger on top than on the bottom, so as to sit in the water properly. Once the bobber is shaped, take a sharp, heated wire and bore a hole in the bobber from top to bottom. After this hole is bored and cool, place a feather quill within, this will ease in putting the line through. It is advised that bobbers of several different sizes be made, from as small as a pea to as large as a walnut.


Later writings describe bobbers made from several quills tied together, and the general opinion is that this bobber is the better, since it is more sensitive to a fish striking the bait. Whichever bobber is used, be sure to use one the correct size for the thickness of line and the type of fish being angled for.


The next piece of tackle which is very useful is the lead weight. The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle describes a weight, which is exactly the same as the slip shot weight used today. The Treatise does not describe how to make them, all that the Treatise does mention is taking balls of lead and putting a cut in them using a knife, so that they may be placed on the line. There are several different methods for making these balls.


The first is from a mold, next is by using the drop method, and finally by pouring the molten lead into holes drilled into a board. There are several pieces of advice in using each of these methods. When casting the lead in a mold, be sure that there is no water present, because when molten lead hits water it may cause a small explosion. The drop method is done by allowing

drops of molten lead to fall several feet into a bucket of water. The ball is formed by the fall simi lal' to that of a raindrop. As with casting, be sure that you drop the molten lead far enough from the water, so that it has a chance to coo before hitting the water, so that an explosion won't occur shooting hot lead all over. The final process is accomplished by poring the molten lead into a block of wood. With this be careful of the wood catching fire from the hot lead. After the lead cools it is then pried from the wood and is ready for the final stage. No matter which method is used, the balls will need to be trimmed with a knife and then shaped by light tapping with a hanuner. It is important that the balls are round and smooth, so as to not get caught on underwater obstructions. Also, use very pure lead, this is due to the fact that lead with inclusions such as tin is not pliable enough to use and is very hard to work with. The most important note of all is that lead is very harmful and can build up in your system, so take all the precautions possible when working with it.


Now for the shapes and proportions of these flies, it is impossible to describe them without painting, therefore you shall take of these several flies alive and laying them before you, try how near your Art can come unto nature by an equal shapes and mixture of colors.


from A Discourse on the General Art of Fishing by Gervase Markham 1614


The art of angling with an artificial fly dates back to the third century B.C. by the Macedonians, and the art of fly-fishing continues to this day. The artificial fly takes the most skill to make and use properly, which is why it is considered the height of the sport of angling. Angling with a fly won't increase an anglers chance of catching fish but it will increase his enjoyment of the sport.


The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle describes twelve flies made of dyed wool, silk thread and feathers. The twelve flies are designed to resemble insects which the fish feed of during a particular times of the year.


The list of flies is as follows; The Dun Fly and Another Dun Fly to be used throughout March, for April there is The Stone Fly and one called A Good Fly is for the beginning of May. The Yellow Fly and The Black Leaper are for the whole month of May. There are three flies for the month of June, these are The Dun Cut, The Maure Fly and The Tandy Fly. For the month of July there are The Wasp Fly and The Shell Fly. Finally, for August There is The Drake Fly.


The Treatise describes what each fly is made from, and there is too much information to be covered in this handout. If you wish to try to make them yourself, it is recommended that you get a book on modern fly tying, to better understand the terms and technics of tying flies.


In Europe the fly was used for catching trout, grayling and salmon. Here in AEthelmearc, the fly can also be used to catch panfish and bass. It became apparent by the end of the sixteenth century that there were many more fly designs than those listed in the Treatise, this invites us to create our own designs for the different types of fish and the different waters we may fish in.


There are several other pieces of equipment, which The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle does not mention and are very useful. Some of these are the net, a spool to keep your line on, various containers to keep your bait and the fish you caught, and a weeding ring (This device was used to free a fish on your line when it has swum into the weeds). All of these pieces of equipment were in use around the time of the Treatise and can either be seen in pictures or are described in various writings.


Now that the tackle needed for angling has been discussed, there is one more item needed for the sport of angling and that is bait. Strangely enough, baits seem to be the one topic which was frequently written about. It seems that each author had a different opinion and recipes for bait, many of these of the strangest concoctions, offering everything from poisons to blessings. To try to discuss all the baits possible and their various uses would require a whole other handout if not a book. The best advice is to talk to other anglers familiar with the area you wish to fish and find out which bait is working best.


I hope the information in this handout is of assistance to all who read it, and that it may at least pique a few gentle's interest to try the sport of angling for themselves. If you do try the sport, I wish you the best of luck.


Creador TwineDragon


BIBLIOGRAPHY (with notes)


The Origins of Angling by John McDonald

1954 Doubleday & Company Library of Congress #63-11120


This is it, the most concise book on The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle, with a thorough history of the Treatise and its authorship, a complete modernized text of both the manuscript and printed versions of the Treatise, along with manuscript. It also includes a study of the flies described in the Treatise. If you can only get one book, get this one.


The Secrets of Angling by John Denny 1613

sorry no other information


This book, written in prose in 1609, may be a little difficult to read, but gives us much of the angling knowledge of the sixteenth century.


A History of Fly Fishing for Trout by John Waller Hills

1912 Freshet Press Library of Congress #78-175053


John Waller Hills was a recognized authority on the sport of angling, and this book is an excellent study on the history and progression of fly fishing.


ThE Fishing in Print

A Guided Tour Through Five Centuries of Angling Literature by Arnold Gingrich 1974 Winchester Press I S:BN 01- 695- 80389-1


A good book on the history of literature on the sport of

angling. This book is an excellent reference source for further research.


A History of Angling

by Charles Chenevix Trench Follet Publishing Company

sorry no other information


An excellent study of angling through the ages, with pictures seldom seen elsewhere. A very good reference source for further research.


Fishing from the Earliest Times by William Radcliffe

1921 Ares Publishers Inc. Library of Congress #0-89005-008-2


If you are interested in the ancient history of angling literature, this is the book, though it is a difficult read.


Creador TwineDragon is Doug Dillon 5644 Valleyview Dr. Bethel Park, PA 15102


If you are interested in more information or wish to share ideas, please feel free to contact me at the address above. Sorry I'm not on line yet.



Copyright <year> by Doug Dillon 5644 Valleyview Dr. Bethel Park, PA 15102. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications,

provided the author is credited and receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org